Saturday, May 19, 2007

Appealing to Thailand’s lucrative pink baht market


In recent years, the metrosexual lifestyle has become a trend in cosmopolitan Bangkok. One financial institution is keen on tapping this niche group of big spenders.

IN A funky Bangkok bar, a ravishing Thai woman gazes adoringly into her hunky lover’s eyes. “Who are you?” she ponders as the Thai man looks at her, mysteriously.

Later, in a luxurious bedroom, he stands erect while observing the gorgeous sleeping woman whose naked body is covered in white sheets. Then, in a bathroom, he vainly admires himself in a mirror next to a vanity table crowded with beauty products. Afterwards, he spends some time in a male sauna occupied with chiselled men.

At the bar, as the woman leans to kiss him, she notices that he is staring lustfully at someone behind her. She slowly turns her head and sees a man seductively raising his left eyebrow at her lover.

Then a voiceover declares: “I am ... KTC Titanium MasterCard.”

The recently released TV commercial titled “Stand up ... say I am” by Krungthai Card (KTC) has aroused the attention of Bangkokians who wondered whether it was a campaign to seduce the pink baht spenders.

It is targeted at metrosexuals and gays, confirms Niwatt Chittalarn, president and chief executive officer of Krungthai Card Public Company Limited, a financial institution offering credit cards, consumer loans and small business loans.

In the past few years, explains Niwatt, a metrosexual (a heterosexual male who has a strong aesthetic sense and inordinate interest in appearance and style, similar to that of homosexual males) lifestyle has become a trend in cosmopolitan Bangkok.

When KTC studied the profile of metrosexuals and gays, it found that they were big spenders. Five months ago, the credit card company decided to tap into this market segment. It designed a sexy card with a graphic of a Michelangelo’s David – arguably the most beautiful statute of a man – with a red heart covering his manhood.

Asked how many percent of Thais males fell into the metrosexual and gay segment, Niwatt responds: “we don’t know as people keep changing their lifestyle.”

“One day you sit down with your friend and he influences you to appreciate fusion food, yoga, male cosmetics or stylish spectacles,” he says.

“Men living in big cities like Bangkok, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur are now adopting a more fashionable lifestyle.”

KTC, Thailand’s leading credit card company, wanted the “Stand up ... say I am” advertisement to be mysterious.

“Your interpretation depends on your frame of reference,” Niwatt says.

“If you are gay, you would think the man was lusting over the other man. But if you are conservative, you would think he was actually looking at the two beautiful girls who were passing by that man.”

The advertisement campaign for the “I am” Titanium MasterCard targets a niche market. For example, its commercial is shown late at night during television shows that attract the pink baht spenders.

“We go for market segmentation. Why target the masses?” declares the CEO, adding that since the card’s launch in mid-March it has attracted about 2,000 successful applicants.

That is also KTC’s philosophy in attracting consumers. It offers about 100 credit cards, which are co-branded with other companies, such as KTC Bangkok Hospital Group Visa Platinum, KTC Mazda Titanium MasterCard or KTC Bangkok Airways Titanium MasterCard.

In the past, according to Niwatt, there were only the “colour” credit cards: classic, gold, platinum or black.

“So we offered cards which reflect your passion. For example, my favourite card is the KTC Porsche Titanium MasterCard as I drive a Porsche,” he explains.

However, he admits that 80% of KTC’s 1.1million credit card holders still prefer generic credit cards.

At the end of the interview held in KTC’s hip and cool Bangkok headquarters where every working day is casual Friday, Niwatt presents a video clip of a television commercial which the company is fine-tuning.

A Thai woman with chic short hair accidentally drops several blouses on the floor of a posh boutique in Japan. The damsel is distressed as she is unfamiliar with the way Japanese fold their clothes. And coming to her rescue is a handsome Japanese man.

The advert is for KTC’s JCB credit card. And it targets women.

(Published in The Star on May 19, 2007)